Welcome!

If you're just coming here for the first time, uh... you're late. The site is no longer updated daily (see HERE for the story). But it's still kicking a few times a month, and it's better late than never! Most reviews nowadays are labeled "FTP:" and you should read THIS PRIMER to understand why. Also, while they're marked nowadays, many of the site's older reviews (i.e. 2010 or older) do contain unannounced spoilers, so tread carefully! Thanks for coming by and be sure to leave comments, play nice, and as always, watch Cathy's Curse.

PLEASE, GO ON...

Fear (2023)

JANUARY 29, 2023

GENRE: PSYCHOLOGICAL (or SUPERNATURAL, or both)
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

I spied a poster for Fear (stylized as Fear? on the poster, and changed (?) to Don't Fear at the end of the film - more on that soon) at my AMC way back in September, assuming it was some kind of Halloween season release that escaped my attention. I then basically forgot about it until I saw it listed on their app as coming soon, and realized that in the four months in between, I had yet to hear anything else about it. Intrigued, I decided to go see it completely blind; a practice I love but rarely get to exercise outside of festivals. Like, I am stoked for Scream VI, but I know the cast, the basic plot, one or two of its surprises... and have six weeks to go before it's released, so chances are I'll know more by then. But for Fear I remained unsullied until it began playing on the screen. It was kind of exciting!

But I quickly regretted my decision, because during the credit sequence (which was actually pretty well done, admittedly) I learned that the director was none other than Dean Taylor, helmer behind some of the worst movies I saw in their respective years: Chain Letter (2010), Meet the Blacks (2016), and The Intruder (2019). I'm not quite sure how this man keeps attracting funding with a track record like that, as not only are the films not particularly successful at the box office (perhaps they clean up on video?) they're also widely hated on an Uwe Boll-ian level, so I know it's not just me. A quick perusal of his filmography on Letterboxd shows that the highest rating he's achieved so far is a 2.9, which isn't exactly a "win". Most - including Fear - fall below a 2.0, so I know it's not just me walking out his movies wondering what else I could have done with my time.

As a bonus, this one isn't just merely bad, it's also irresponsible. The plot is about a group of friends gathering at an isolated hotel/resort to celebrate one of them having a best-selling book, and we are told that everyone has properly tested beforehand (some even isolated for two weeks) to prevent a covid spread. Which is the sort of thing you'd expect if the movie took place in 2020 or even 2021 before the vaccine became easily available, but for reasons that only make sense to Herr Taylor, the film is established as being set in 2023. So why is everyone so paranoid, you might wonder? Hell, by late 2021 even the most cautious people (such as myself, vaxxed and double-boosted, thank you) were going back to life as normally as possible - I even went out of town for a festival and a few Halloween parties without much worry. So why are these folks going to the two week isolation extreme?

(SPOILERS AHEAD!)

Because it turns out, while the title ostensibly refers to the overused concept of everyone sharing their fears (blood, cops, being in confined spaces, etc) and then being undone by it, the movie as a whole (spoiler, last chance) is one big F U to people who isolated, stayed at home for months (or still are), continue to wear their masks, etc. Early on we learn that there's a new strain of the virus that is more deadly and in the air, and thus no one should go outside for any reason, but one of the group has left her kid at home with a sitter for the weekend (hell of a sitter!) and is worried about him, so she opts to - gasp! - go outside and take her chances so that she can be with him. Meanwhile, pretty much everyone who stays behind (i.e. listens to the news and believes that it can be dangerous) gets killed, with the lone survivor (who escapes the supernatural force by also just going outside and also having faith in JESUS) finding a bunch of townsfolk just walking around normally, and her cell phone going off to show that the friend who escaped is perfectly fine.

Then there's a slam cut to the original "DON'T Fear" title and it really seems like Taylor has clear disdain for the people who holed up and didn't put themselves/others at risk in order to get brunch or a haircut. Again, the setting is 2023, but the film was actually shot in August of 2020, before the vaccine (even tests were a ways off from being easy to find), so it's unclear why they changed it when everything about the movie's setup would make much more sense if it was just set in 2020 (the recent Sick, filmed later, takes place in April of 2020 and really leans into it, so it's not like a "period piece" of 2-3 years ago is impossible). Per Taylor, the film was shot with strict covid regulations, so why the finished feature depicts a pretty cynical attitude about all the caution and rules is curious at best, but by changing it to 2023 it's easy to infer that he believes anyone still being cautious *today* is just a coward, and deserve to be murdered by our "fears" while the people who opt to just ignore the warnings will live happy and full lives. Did some folks overreact, stockpiling enough toilet paper for a decade? Absolutely. But I'll take them over the people who went around screaming about "MUH FREEDOM!" at grocery store clerks because they were asked to wear a mask. And the movie's message seems to side more with them than the TP hoarders.

It would have been the sort of thing that derailed a movie in the last few minutes (kind of like how The Devil Inside was playing just fine to my crowd until the URL at the end turned them against it), but it sucked all the way through anyway, so it was adding insult to injury as opposed to just making a last minute bad call. For starters it takes forever to get going; the "we will be undone by our fears" concept is clear at around the 30 minute mark at most, but it's over an hour before the first person is actually attacked by whatever supernatural/psychological grip the location has over them. It takes so long from the point where they all divulge their personal fears to the time that those fears come back to haunt them that you might actually forget what some of them were, and they're all poorly shoehorned into the proceedings anyway. My personal favorite is that the guy who was afraid of confined spaces isn't the one who ends up being locked in a storage closet - after spending the movie constantly getting lost in the hotel's hallways (so... why wasn't his fear being lost?) he dies when he goes into a bathroom, which I would assume is something he does every day anyway. (Ironically, his subsequent death is one of the few effective moments in the movie - go figure.)

It's also just sloppy and confusing throughout, with some plot points delivered as reveals despite the fact that we had already been given that information (some "dun dun DUNNN" music/editing choices accompany the lead telling us that the hotel was the site of some torture/sacrifices in the past, something he told the same people earlier in the movie). One character is afraid of cops because of the time he was pulled over and forced out of his car, and then near the end another character says they will call the cops, so it seems they'll show up and that'll be his undoing, right? Nope, the cops never come, but he starts going crazy anyway, and accompanying flashbacks to the source of his trauma show him stabbing the cop - is that what actually happened, or a hallucination? Hell if I know, or care. Another girl is afraid of losing her necklace (ok, fine) but her death has nothing to do with it, while also showcasing some kind of hazing gone wrong prank that wasn't clearly established beforehand. So basically, Taylor and his co-conspirators can't even stick to their lame/tired concept as they slowly (the goddamn thing is 100 minutes long) make their way to basically telling me and anyone else in the audience who wore a mask that day that we're losers.

I can give the movie credit for two (2) things. One was the aforementioned bathroom death, which involved the character repeatedly whacking their head into the sink while screaming "Let me out!" Said character was one of the few who were interesting, so having them go out in such gruesome fashion struck a tiny nerve. The other is that I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this group of late 20s/early 30s friends had no dark secrets between them. I thought for sure that the lead's girlfriend (who has seemingly been neglected lately due to his career taking off) would turn out to be having an affair with one of the other friends, or that there would be some bed-hopping at the very least, but nope - everyone is pretty cool with each other outside of conflict that occurs within the narrative (i.e. one guy starts coughing, so some want to isolate him while others think it's inhumane). In a movie that steals from Evil Dead, The Shining, The Mist, and who knows what else, I have to begrudgingly respect that they had the relatively original idea for a modern horror movie to let the group of friends actually like each other for a change.

But that's, you know, not nearly enough to give this even a "OK for background noise" pass. I suspect the success of Terrifier 2 will mean seeing more indie stuff like this on the big screen as theaters look for something/anything to get butts in seats in between Marvel movies, and that's great, but I also suspect a lot of it will be really bad, like this. They won't recall that Terrifier was a viral/word of mouth hit, playing single showings to packed crowds and gradually expanding it once it was clear that people wanted to see it, as opposed to dumping it out on nearly 1,000 screens at once as they've done with this thing. So for the sake of all the good indies that deserve their shot, let's hope there aren't any movies as bad as Fear in the pipeline, and that the next chance taken by the likes of AMC is on a movie that is actually more entertaining than their endless pre-show reel and trailer collection. I'd rather watch the GD Morbius preview again than suffer through another film as insulting and inept as this.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

FTP: Gags The Clown (2018)

JANUARY 23, 2023

GENRE: MOCKUMENTARY, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

The only thing easier to find than a bad killer clown movie is a bad found footage movie, so the deck was pretty stacked against Gags The Clown even before I found out it was based on a viral phenomenon, giving me unpleasant flashbacks to Slender Man. But to my pleasant surprise, it got out from under the shadow of all those red flags and turned out to be a pretty good little chiller; the sort of thing that, back in the regular days of this site, I would be grateful to for being above average and giving me something to remember. Hell it might have even ended up in my book!

The key reason that it works, beyond wisely not giving Gags any kind of (likely annoying/underwhelming) backstory, is that the creative team of Adam Krause and John Pata (former directed, latter produced, both wrote) understand that having multiple POVs in this sort of “found footage” movie (they dislike the term, and they’re right that it’s not, but I’m referring to it as one for the sake of brevity) keeps it from ever getting too dull, with minimal “why are they filming?” moments that have derailed so many others in this sub-genre. Our characters are a news team tasked with covering the ongoing appearances of the creepy clown around town, a trio of teens who are using the hysteria to play pranks, a right-wing podcast host who wants to be a hero for his viewers, and a pair of cops who are on patrol the night Gags has seemingly upped his game. And they each have different, motivated ways of depicting their POV – the podcast guy is streaming live, the cops have their body cams, the teens are just filming everything with their phones, etc. There are occasional uses of security cameras and such to give a different view on the proceedings, and every now and then I wasn’t quite sure what camera was being used, but for the most part it’s a very well thought out way of telling the story in a non-cheating way but without too much of the tedium that proves to be a crutch for so many of its predecessors.

And (minor spoiler) eventually all of the characters converge in a single area, so it actually feels like a true ensemble film as opposed to something more episodic and disconnected, which it seemed it might be at first. But unlike Mockingbird, which had a similar structure (and also involved a creepy clown), the tone doesn’t change wildly between these segments, while the aesthetic itself does, so we get some variety in the proceedings but no whiplash from suddenly feeling like a different kind of movie, as Mockingbird did whenever it cut to the guy pulling off Jackass-style pranks. The POV might keep changing, but there is a genuine sense of mounting escalation to the proceedings, and even when they all meet up it doesn't feel like a forced "well let's get to the ending" decision, but a natural one. It's really well done in that regard.

That said it does get a bit repetitive at times, in particular with the right-wing guy (who reminded me of my old coworker, which made me chuckle) who – another spoiler here – turns out to be all talk, which was obvious from the start since he was clearly modeled after Alex Jones/Bill O’Reilly type of “tough guys” who were also afraid of putting a mask on during the height of the pandemic. But knowing he’d get what he deserved kept it afloat, and with three other teams to check in with, at least we’re never with him for too long. I just wish his story had more pull throughout; it’s not until he comes face to face with Gags that his storyline becomes more compelling.

The disc has a ton of extras, including the short film that they were making when all those viral photos surfaced back in 2016 (which, amusingly, was more traditional found footage and felt almost as long as the movie despite being a fraction of the length). There’s also some charming footage of the premiere in Wisconsin; a nice reminder that the film was an independent/regional production that came together from good natured people who were happy to help the filmmakers. Indeed, on the commentary, they note that a certain scene was supposed to be shot at a local fun park, only for the owners to turn them down – it was apparently the only time they were denied anything by their neighbors (luckily, a local traveling carnival was happy to help, turning on all the rides the night before they opened so they could have proper production value, with the carnies all going along with whatever was asked of them). Maybe because the right-wing guy had me thinking a lot about all the division in the world (especially in the pandemic era, which this predated), it served as a nice reminder that most people are inherently good and willing to help their fellow man. Thanks, Gags.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

FTP: Suffer Little Children (1983)

JANUARY 18, 2023

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

After watching Skinamarink last night, I wanted something a little more traditional for a horror movie viewing. And yet of all the movies in the pile (less than 70 now! Down from 150 or so!) I managed to single out Suffer Little Children, which comes from the same line that brought us the WTFery of Things and Sledgehammer, and might be more incompetent than the two of those put together. But I could at least tell you what it was about without needing prompts from the official synopsis to fill in some gaps, so it got one over Skinamarink in that department.

In fact if this was made with any degree of skill, I might genuinely enjoy it, as the plot kind of rules. Our setting is an orphanage where a new resident is dropped off with just a note saying they could care for her. The note identifies her as Elizabeth, but nothing else about the girl is known, nor can she speak to explain things herself. But it takes all of 12 seconds for us to be clued into her nature, as another girl there makes fun of her and is quickly knocked aside by a door that slams on her after Elizabeth gives it an evil stare. But instead of laying waste to all the kids who live there, Elizabeth recruits a few of them into her budding Satanic army, which ultimately leads to a mega bloodbath – the kids either join or get killed with all of the adults who work there. So it’s some low key Children of the Corn kinda stuff (albeit predating that film’s release by a year), but without any of the respectability that movie offered. As poorly made as it is (shot on video by film students for 7,000 bucks), it’s no surprise that it ended up attracting the attention of the Video Nasty folks, on account of all the child on child (or child on adult) violence that occurs in the name of Satan.

(They probably clutched their pearls over the finale too, where another biblical character enters the proceedings. It may be 40 years old but I wouldn’t dare spoil the surprise.)

In fact I kinda liked it even as is, and probably would enjoy it more if it wasn’t padded and weighed down by the subplot of a former resident who has become a major pop star. He stops by his old place to meet the kids before performing a charity concert set to benefit them, and strikes up a relationship with Jenny, the overworked social worker who runs the place along with another guy who clearly has a crush on her. The rivalry between the two men and the budding romance between Jenny and the faux Rick Springfield is tedious stuff at best, and has no real payoff beyond the mild novelty of a horror movie about Satanic cults where the rock star is completely innocent, even oblivious, to those shenanigans.

I also have to dock it for a confusing (even by this movie’s standards) bit immediately following a date between the two, where Jenny is suddenly upset about an event with the kids. From her scattered outbursts, it seems she took the kids to the pool and Elizabeth instigated some of the kids to distract her by pulling off her bikini (!?) while she attempted to drown the others? The vague recollection suggests the scene was meant to actually be included at some point and the dialogue here serving as more of a recap, but not seeing it - after suffering through five minutes of the runtime devoted to their date instead! – felt like a real cheat, robbing the middle of some much needed action. I assume budgetary/production limitations kept them from being able to properly film such a major scene, but why have the epilogue to it? Just cut the whole thing so we're not aware of what we're missing.

Still, the super gonzo final five minutes or so make up for it, and it’s only 75 minutes with credits anyway, so hardly a waste of your time as long as you have an appreciation for this sort of thing. I basically break down movies into three categories: under 80 minutes, 80-99 minutes, and 100+ minutes. 80-99 minute movies just have to be competently made and/or amusing more often than not to get a pass, and anything over 100 has to be genuinely good. But for these sub-80 minute movies? Give me one or two things I’ll remember a year from now and we’re good. And this one does! Even if I somehow forget what I described above, I'll always remember that this 1983 movie begins with narration explaining that it's a reenactment of events that took place in 1984, because that it just too incredible to let fall out of my memory. So the system works!

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

Skinamarink (2022)

JANUARY 17, 2023

GENRE: HAUNTED HOUSE, WEIRD
SOURCE: THEATRICAL (REGULAR SCREENING)

We’ve all been duped with a misleading trailer once or twice, but in the case of Skinamarink, I’m hard-pressed to think of a MORE honest promotion for a horror movie. Outside of the oft-repeated “in this house” not appearing in the film (I can’t tell if the trailer voice is meant to be, you know, TRAILER VOICE or if it’s trying to pass off the line as dialogue), the vibe of the trailer is exactly what the film is, albeit for 100 minutes instead of two. So if you watched the trailer and thought "OK, this is more of a teaser, the real movie can't be like that, right?" - you're not gonna be happy if you buy a ticket.

“But the trailer is just a bunch of random shots of ceilings and stuff?” you might be thinking, and yes, that is correct and that is also what the film offers for its entire runtime. There is some dialogue, but it’s delivered by off-screen characters and often so hard to hear that the film provides subtitles for the majority of it. There are four people in the cast (two kids and two adults) but they could have been sitting right next to me in the theater and I wouldn’t have recognized them, as we never see any of them that clearly. The film’s real star is a nightlight that appears several times (occasionally knocked around by the ghostly presence) or maybe the orange Lego brick separator that shouldn’t have existed in the film’s 1995 setting (I like to think it was another demonstration of the ghost’s powers, myself).

The plot, which is made more clear in the two line description on IMDb than from the film itself, is about a kid who sleepwalks and hurts himself a bit, waking up the other family members in the process. Over the course of the evening, their house begins to change – the windows and doors disappear, their toys start collecting themselves into a massive pile, and then the parents also disappear, leaving the two kids (4 and 6ish) alone with whatever supernatural force they’re being terrified with. It seems to all unfold over one night, but a late on-screen title suggests it's going for much longer, though without any exteriors (or characters, really) I guess it doesn't matter much.

Now, that probably sounds like a pretty straightforward haunted house movie; a sort of “Poltergeist but from the kids’ POV” effort that maybe would make good gateway horror for your own young’ns. But no: as I said, most of that plot is hard to suss out from what you see on screen, which is mostly hallways and floors and assorted toys. The camera rarely moves, the characters appear even less, and the lo-fi approach (super grainy, not always clear VHS type imagery, albeit presented in a 2.40 image) makes it hard to tell what you’re actually looking at on several occasions. Sometimes this is used for an effective scare, like a seemingly empty shot of a wall (or something similarly featureless) that slowly reveals the little girl (I think?) standing there, but most of the time it gives you that inclination to dart your eyes around the frame, looking for something that might appear in a corner or from behind whatever random object you’re looking at.

If you’ve gotten this far you can probably figure out if this is a “for you” movie or not, and alas I fall into the “not” category. I didn’t hate it or anything, and I admired the experimental nature of the effort (doubly so when you consider it was playing in multiplexes, with a trailer for Ant-Man 3 beforehand), but at 100 minutes I got pretty restless waiting for it to switch gears (spoiler: it never does). The problem is, for me, that the movie is basically – occasionally even effectively! – trying to depict the sensation of a bad nightmare you probably had as a kid, in an attempt to get under your skin and creep you out, and I am simply not easily susceptible to such things. I heard that the best way to watch the movie was all alone in your house in the middle of the night with all the lights off, and I don’t doubt it, but I’ve seen a number of films I found scary in theaters (including Blair Witch Project and Paranormal Activity, both of which have been namechecked in the film’s hype), so it should more or less work on the big screen.

In fact, one of the things I was most taken by during my experience was how quiet the crowd was, and it was nearly sold out. A couple people walked out, unsurprisingly (I had to laugh when two girls finally gave up with maybe ten minutes left, something I saw happen at Inland Empire, which was a film I had already mentally compared it to), but no one expressed their frustration until the lights came up at the end, or checked their phones or whatever (at least from where I could see, about dead center of the auditorium). If anything, everyone seemed to be trying really hard to maintain the same sort of quiet intensity the film offered – at one point someone attempted to recline their seat, and the squeaking sound from the leather parts rubbing together had them stop almost instantly. The only other time I’ve seen that sort of commitment from an audience around here was during the first Quiet Place, and considering this was an AMC, with people laughing and cheering for the Nicole Kidman ad, I must say I was practically stunned at how well behaved everyone was and how they all seemed to be aware that they shouldn’t be disrupting the other patrons. More like this, please!

At any rate, I hope those who enjoy this sort of thing (though I can’t really think of anything else to compare it to) get a chance to see it in the most ideal circumstances possible. And again, I’m glad to see a multiplex take a chance on something like this at a time when even family-friendly Disney stuff is tanking because people are so accustomed to staying at home unless it’s a predetermined blockbuster like Marvel or Avatar. But I slept just fine when I got home (except for when my idiot cat woke me up because it managed to stick its head through the handle hole of a plastic bag, then proceeded to run around the house knocking into everything trying to get it off), sans nightmares or fears that my windows would disappear. Making it an experiment that failed, at least for me. But an interesting experience all the same, and if it's not playing near you, it will be on Shudder soon, as they are the co-distributors (which saddens me as it makes it much less likely that there will be a Blu-ray with commentary, as I'd be interested in listening to one if provided). And yes, SOON, so please don't impatiently steal it.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

The House Where Evil Dwells (1982)/Ghost Warrior (1984)

JANUARY 16, 2023

GENRE: HAUNTED HOUSE
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

One of the oldest “residents” of my dreaded (but now smaller!) pile is a double feature of The House Where Evil Dwells and Ghost Warrior, a pair of genre films from the early 80s that attempted to bridge Japanese and American audiences now that we were all friends again. In fact, it’s been sitting there so long (I wasn’t even living in the same house at the time!) that the disc is now out of print, so maybe I shouldn’t have opened it and just sold it on eBay for a few bucks. I really should start just sorting them chronologically to avoid such dilemmas.

But alas, I am still cursed with having to know if a movie is any good before I part with it, and if I sold this unseen then I’d be missing out on the insanity of Dwells’ third act! A chunk of film so insane it almost makes up for how slow the previous hour was. After a lengthy 19th century prologue in which a Samurai returns home and finds his wife in bed with his buddy, prompting him to kill them both and then himself, not much happens for a while. We flash to the modern day where an American family has just moved into the house so the husband (Eddie Albert) can start over his writing career in Japan, and his wife (Susan George) and daughter can… I dunno, buy Noh masks, I guess.

Anyway, the ghosts of the trio from the prologue are there, and despite the husband’s clear hatred of the other two, now they all kind of work together, doing basic haunted house stuff like tossing dishes around and making faucets turn on. But they also influence the wife to start banging the husband’s best bud (Doug McClure!) who found them the house in the first place, so you can probably guess why our ghosts have put aside their differences: they want to recreate the circumstances of their own deaths so their spirits can be freed. Not sure how that works (or how they even figured it out) but after all the tedium in the middle – occasionally peppered with some sex (weirdly, despite the affair element, the wife seems to go at it with more gusto with her husband than the other guy? You’re affairing wrong, lady!) things finally pick up in the end.

First, the daughter is attacked by a giant talking crab (!), which she escapes by jumping out the window. This puts her in the hospital and then sent back to America while the parents, now clued into the history of the house, get things packed up to go back as well. But then the ghosts put their big plan into motion, possessing all three of them and giving us the delightful sight of Albert and McClure having a full on kung fu battle. Eventually weapons get thrown into the mix, and… well, the ghosts get what they want! And I sat wondering who was gonna take care of the daughter, since the movie doesn’t have an answer for that.

It's the kind of movie I would have loved to have seen at one of those all night horror marathons when we don’t know what is going to play. By the 3rd movie (at best) I’m starting to get tired and frequently doze off (I am relieved when a movie I’ve seen before ends up playing, as then I can just let myself sleep guilt-free), so this one would have knocked me out pretty quick and then the rapturous response to the crab scene would have woken me back up. So I would have missed the dull middle and assumed that the movie as a whole was pretty action packed/crazy. It wasn’t BAD, per se, just, you know, kind of a “filler” movie, not helped by my usual indifference to haunted house motifs. And it’s nothing I could see myself watching again, because… well, I’m sorry, but how can I be entertained by a mask falling off the wall when I know they could have been giving us more talking giant crab scenes?

The other movie, Ghost Warrior (aka Swordkill) wasn’t even really horror, but instead more of an action/thriller with some occasional gore. It’s the story of a Samurai named Yoshi who falls into the water after losing a battle after failing to protect his wife. The body is frozen and uncovered 400 years later, and when thawed he actually comes back to life. So it’s a fish out of water kind of thing (one highlight: learning what TV is via a W.A.S.P. video) as the scientists who found him (an asshole guy and a kindly woman) try to communicate with him. But after an orderly tries to steal his swords, he kills the guy and escapes, wandering around LA and getting into mischief like killing a few gangbangers who were trying to rob an elderly man.

This could all be fine, but the constant cutting away to the scientist people drains the movie of most of its energy, as their goals are not particularly interesting nor are they even that villainous (basically they just want to kill him because he shouldn’t be alive in the first place, which I can’t really argue with!). And Yoshi never makes much of an effort to communicate or anything, so the fish out of water stuff grows tired and is awkwardly spaced out to boot (with like 20 minutes left in the movie, he learns what a lamp is). The occasional fights are fine, but there’s just no real drive to the narrative, and it’s not helped by the interminable final chase, where the nice scientist helps him evade her jerk coworkers through a forest, with about 9 million cutaways to one of the searching helicopters, presumably because Charles Band wanted to get his money’s worth from the rental.

So, yeah, you aren’t missing much from the films’ current inavailabilty. The action/light horror blend of Ghost Warrior is much better realized in Ninja III, and House’s crazy moments aren’t enough to elevate it above “OK timekiller” status. No features beyond the trailer are on the disc either, so I’m guessing the films were part of a package Scream picked up around that time, or just happened to be a personal guilty pleasure of someone who works there (like how I’d put out The Hitcher remake if I worked for them and had that power). I took a quick glance at eBay and found that the OOP discs are selling below retail price, so I’m guessing there isn’t much of a demand for it either. A curious release that waited seven years for me to finally pick it out of the stack, and will now be traded in for 19 cents off a record I’ll probably only listen to once – the disc has just as sad a fate as the characters featured on it.

What say you?

P.S. For anyone who could possibly care – yes this is a “From the Pile” disc but since it’s so long I made it a regular entry. FTP reviews are supposed to be pretty short, and in my wildest (very boring) dreams I like to assume you fine folk see the "FTP" moniker and know it won't take as much time out of their day to check out.

PLEASE, GO ON...

FTP: Book of Monsters (2019)

DECEMBER 22, 2022

GENRE: SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

Given the success and – more importantly – inspiring nature of Evil Dead and its first sequel (after that they had real money), it’s not all that surprising to see some of its plot devices end up in independent genre films. But sometimes these films can be grating, especially if they try to force memorable catchphrases down our throats in hopes of creating the next “Groovy” or whatever (made worse when you consider how many of them feature actors with nary an ounce of Bruce Campbell’s charm. So I admit I wasn’t expecting much from Book of Monsters, which was clearly about an evil book unleashing hell on a group of friends, however I’m happy to say it was actually quite entertaining and bodes well for the creative team’s future endeavors.

Part of what helps it along is that it doesn’t waste too much time getting to the gory/goopy stuff; there’s an opening kill (our heroine’s mother) followed by 10-15 minutes of introductions and establishing the character dynamics: the now teenaged daughter of the woman killed in the opening is about to celebrate her birthday, but a small gathering with friends turns into a big party (where her bully shows up, of course). It isn’t long before the promised monsters appear, and there’s a surprising variety: a plague mask wearing creeper, a sultry shapeshifter, little worm like things, etc. As we learn on the behind the scenes doc, this was a crowdfunded film, and while not without some blemishes (none crippling), it’s actually got more production value than some traditionally financed films of late. Whatever they raised from the online funding, it’s certainly all on screen.

Of course, a bunch of costumes and splatter effects wouldn’t matter in the long run if the characters were insufferable, but that’s not the case here. The creative team of Paul Butler (writer) and Stewart Sparke (director; both produced) wisely opted to not only center on their lead and treat everyone else as fodder. Sure, birthday girl Sophie gets the limelight, but her bffs Mona and Beth all have their own complete adventures/arcs that are just as engaging as Sophie’s story, and there’s also a pair of party guests (Gary the nice guy who turns out to be a capable monster fighter, and Jess, who is Sophie’s crush) that won me over. FIVE characters in a modern horror movie that I liked enough to hope they survived until the end? That’s (so sadly) unprecedented!

It also doesn’t beat us over the head with its homages/references. Even though the Evil Dead-ness is apparent, the most blatant it gets is a tape recorded message from Sophie’s mom, on an old-school reel to reel deck, which they find next to a chainsaw. Nowadays, with everyone so quick to judge something as a ripoff, moments like this are almost necessary, as if the filmmakers are acknowledging their influence but don’t want to turn it into a Family Guy episode where they’re just rattling movie names and quotes. It’s the best way to do such things, and I encourage it.

The disc comes jampacked with features, including the aforementioned making of which runs an hour long and is chock full of anecdotes and “how we did this” explanations, many of which revolve around the fact that they were working with limited means (personal favorite reveal: a monster trying to bust down a door was played by the same guy who said monster was trying to get to on the other side). They also run a master class in how to run an effective crowdfunding campaign, which instead of focusing on useless perks like fake producer credits or signed crap you’ll never look at (if they even send it), they offered contributors a chance to directly influence parts of the film, including choosing the role of “the uninvited guest” character (among other options, “male stripper” won out) and what types of monsters would appear. There are also two commentaries; one with Butler and Sparke and the other with the cast, and if you are familiar with such things you’ll know that the latter is less interesting, but still has some fun reveals and shoot memories. Deleted scenes, a gag reel, a short film, the crowdfund video, etc… if you enjoyed the film, you’ll have about five hours of extra time to spend with it, thanks to those who agree with me that bonus features are a valid enterprise despite the preference for streaming.

The crew and some of the cast are now in production on what sounded like a sequel (titled How To Kill Monsters) but per the IMDb the returning cast members are playing different characters, so it is perhaps a Fish Called Wanda/Fierce Creatures kind of deal instead. Which is weird, since the end of this one has a setup for more adventures, but perhaps the film didn’t meet the level of success they were hoping for (I have no idea how well these Dread releases perform, but I DO know that unlike discs from other specialty outfits like Shudder and Arrow, they don’t show up inside brick and mortar retailers like Best Buy, only through their online delivery services, which presumably limits their exposure and amount of blind buying) and they had to switch gears. Either way, I look forward to what they do next, and encourage those who enjoy low budget creature flicks to give this one a look.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

FTP: A Taste of Phobia (2018)

DECEMBER 16, 2022

GENRE: ANTHOLOGY
SOURCE: DVD (OWN COLLECTION)

I don’t wish them ill or anything, but I really have little to no interest in multi director anthologies, something I figured out about a decade ago when we were suddenly bombarded by them (V/H/S, ABCs of Death, etc). I mean, to be fair I don’t even love a lot of traditional, single-filmmaker ones like Creepshow, feeling that the time spent on a few short films could have been spent on a full narrative I can sink my teeth into (I don’t DISLIKE Creepshow, to be clear – but I rarely feel like rewatching it either; I’ve probably seen Diary of the Dead more in full, among Romero films). The only time I ever seem to get on board is when the stories are connected in some way (like Trick r Treat, or, going outside the genre, Pulp Fiction); otherwise while I will almost certainly like some of the segments, as a full viewing experience I almost always walk away unfulfilled. But after watching and disliking A Taste of Phobia, I poked around online to see if it was “just me”, only to discover that the (admittedly few) reviews I found were pretty much all negative.

The concept is fine, at least: the multinational team of filmmakers each present a short based on a fear. Some of the fears are kind of known (Hemophobia, or the fear of blood) or can at least be sussed out just from the name (Politicophobia is, you guessed it, fear of politics), but many are pretty obscure, such as Mageirocophobia (fear of cooking) and Partenophobia (fear of virgins), so at least they weren’t sticking to the usual stuff like clowns and spiders and things like that. In fact, I had to laugh that there’s a deleted segment available on the DVD, because my instant thought was “How bad is it that it couldn’t make the cut along with all this nonsense?” but it was Achluophobia, which is indeed a fear of the dark, so I’d like to think they cut it for being a little too basic.

And to its credit the tone is all over the place, which is, yes, part of why the movie didn’t work, but when you see a segment like Coprophobia (fear of feces), which is mostly devoted to a guy fighting a poop monster in his bathroom (and by fighting I mean pretending that a stuffed animal covered in guck is actually doing anything as he basically rubs it all over himself), you will be thankful that “be real gross!” wasn’t an edict from the masterminds behind the damn thing. There’s not a lot of genuine humor, but there are psychologically driven entries, a few that offer social commentary (including the aforementioned political one), freak-out types, gore for the sake of gore, etc. It’s even possible that some of the entries would have been a little more to my liking if I watched them on their own, though only Astrophobia (fear of stars) came off as legitimately good.

See, when you’re watching these things back to back, with only a vague wraparound story guiding them, it just becomes exhausting. Short or not, I’m still being introduced to fourteen worlds with fourteen sets of characters and fourteen different narratives, so even if they were all great – and they most certainly are not – it just wears my brain down trying to process all those introductions. And making matters worse is that many of the stories end without really resolving much and instantly go into the next one, leaving you no time to consider what you saw before the next one pops in. I just watched it and, gun to my head, I couldn’t tell you the order of the entries, though I do remember that the fear of hair (“Chaetophobia”) was first because I thought the hairless villain looked like the dude from Live terrorizing some girl. Gimme THAT movie.

So, yeah. Perfect pile movie, in that I can now trade it in for 19 cents after it’s been taking up space for years, which I probably could have done after watching the first couple but I sat through the whole thing anyway (the lone entry I enjoyed was right around in the middle, natch). What’s the fear of getting rid of a movie until you’ve seen it called?

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

A Toast To The Men of BLACK CHRISTMAS

(NOTE: This is more of a "Collins' Crypt" type of piece I just didn't have anywhere to post as the sites I write for already have plenty of Black Christmas material. So you get an off-brand piece here. You're welcome.)

Jess: “Clare Harrison is missing. I was out with the search party looking for her.”
Peter: “How noble.”

Let’s get something out of the way here: Keir Dullea’s Peter is NOT the killer in Black Christmas, despite the well intentioned efforts to make us think he is. If you want to assume he is and that the phone ringing at the end of the film is just a coincidental phone call (perhaps Mrs. Mac’s sister calling, wondering where she is), that’s fine! Ease your troubled mind! But as careful viewers – and/or those who go through the dozen hours of bonus features on Scream Factory’s deluxe 4K UHD blu-ray - can attest, Peter cannot be the killer, as we see Billy’s shadow on the wall watching him and Jess have their discussion about the abortion.

He is, however, the biggest jerk in slasher history, and honestly Jess wasn't any safer with him than she was with Billy.

Much has been made of the 1974 film’s rather progressive politics, with Jess not only making the decision to abort her child without considering his opinion on the matter (nor should she, if that’s unclear), but flat out calling it an “abortion”, instead of using the more subtle language that is still prevalent today. As I myself have noted earlier (I’ve written about this movie a lot over the past 15 years or so!*), Jess and the other women in the film almost seem to be written as a response to the “sex = death” motif that’s so popular in slasher movies, which is of course impossible since the film came along before any of the standards (Halloween, Friday the 13th, etc) that popularized that cliché. It’s not impossible to believe that the film’s increased popularity over the years isn’t because of its scares or setting or any of that, but because its forward-thinking attitude regarding its female characters simply makes it more interesting than one might expect.

But the men are pretty fascinating too in their own way. Again, Peter is not the killer, but if he was that’d just be yet another red flag against him in an already overflowing list. The above exchange is a perfect example of how much of a monster he is; even if he wasn’t fond of Clare for whatever reason, what kind of jackass mocks his girlfriend for being worried about a missing friend? When he calls Jess earlier in the film and she laments that he wasn’t able to join the party, he could have easily just said “I know, it sucks” even if he didn’t mean it (anyone who has ever been in a relationship has likely offered a similar disingenous response to “unfortunately” missing out on a spouse’s work party or something that they were actually happy to miss), but instead he jumps down her throat, eliciting an apology out of her for not being considerate of why he missed it, as if she was actually complaining that he wasn’t there. Even if you ignore the horrible way he acts toward her regarding the abortion, he still pretty much deserves what he got at the end of the movie.

Luckily he’s the only male that is closer to villain than hero. On the other end of the personality spectrum is Art Hindle’s Chris, who spends the entire movie looking for Clare, a rather sad character arc when we know she’s dead the entire time. Unlike Peter, he seems like a genuinely good guy (if Barb is correct, Clare isn’t even sleeping with him, so if he was anything like Peter he’d probably just be glad for the easy out and find a Townie to shack up with instead), and is quick to make sure the cops actually do something about finding her, joining the girls (and keeping them warm!) during the freezing nighttime search. Hell, he even goes out of her way to meet her dad (another memorable scene-stealer), and it’s kind of sad that both men end the movie still not sure what happened to her – one wonders how long it took for the cops to finally check the attic and discover her body. Apparently, the film’s producers wanted Bob Clark to shoot an ending that revealed Chris was the killer (even more impossible than the idea that it was Peter – Billy’s POV includes Chris leaving the party in the first scene!), which would have been a cliché – “it was the nice guy!”. So without that dumb note being implemented, we have another rarity for the slasher genre: the actual nice guy who isn’t the lead’s boyfriend nor is he killed.

It's also the rare slasher where the cop is sympathetic and competent. Even still relatively early in his career, John Saxon was the kind of guy who commanded your attention just as soon as he walked into the room, but he’s not a hardass or antagonistic presence like, say, Sheriff Garris in Friday the 13th Part 6 or even Saxon’s own character in the Elm Street movies, who was incredulous/disbelieving of his own daughter. Instead he quickly admonishes his deputy for not taking the girls seriously, gets their phone tapped, leads the search party in the park, starts looking into Peter as a possible suspect (who can blame him?), etc - all in about 12 hours! (One thing about the film that’s often overlooked is that it takes place in a 24 hour period, another thing that makes Peter’s guilt all but impossible due to his conservatory duties.) True, he doesn’t actually catch the killer in the end, but it’s not for a lack of trying, and he seems genuinely concerned for the girls instead of doing the typical thing of chalking their fears up to paranoia or whatever.

Even the smaller parts are memorable. Phyl’s foul mouthed boyfriend is a hoot, a man who clearly hates kids being forced to play – I always lament he didn’t pop up again somewhere. Then there’s the two weird guys who are on the neighborhood watch, popping in like Bob and Doug Mackenzie just stopped by to see their SCTV pal Andrea Martin. And while the movie is not a comedy, few things in the world make me laugh as hard as the “New exchange?” scene, thanks mostly to Saxon’s fellow detective, who spends the entire scene just full on cackling at Nash’s stupidity (“Something dirty, ain’t it?”) and his delight at watching Saxon deal with it. Indeed, the character is billed as “Laughing Detective”, as if they knew giving him a name would be pointless since that’s how he’d be referred to anyway.

So while the film is first and foremost a women-centric film, and a great one at that, it was no slouch in the male department either (something both remakes missed entirely, though at least their anonymity and dullness was part of the point of the 2019 one). These gents – and scoundrels – really add to the film’s almost unprecedented number of memorable characters in a slasher, where even the folks who only appear in a scene or two manage to stick in your memory in some way. Normally a “body count” film like this only bothers to include people who will meet the business end of a knife or machete, but Black Christmas sports over a dozen women and men to worry about while keeping the body count to a mere six (including the never seen girl in the park, and Peter himself). Truly a Christmas miracle.

*Ironically, the very first thing I ever wrote for Bloody Disgusting was a review of the remake, and it was also around that time that I did an email interview with Bob Clark for the site, so I’ve basically been writing about Billy and Agnes for my entire writing career.

PLEASE, GO ON...

FTP: Perfect Strangers (1984)

DECEMBER 1, 2022

GENRE: THRILLER
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

My least favorite Larry Cohen movie (of the ones I've seen anyway) is Special Effects, his Body Double-esque thriller that I found impossibly dull. But some friends have raved about it (one even said it was in fact one of his best!) so I've been meaning to give it another look, and after watching the late director's interview on the bonus features for Perfect Strangers (aka Blind Alley, which is the title on the film itself but the disc packaging is given the Strangers title) my goal has been renewed. Because it turns out they were shot back to back, and now I can't help but wonder if he was spreading himself too thin, resulting in these two uncharacteristically light films from the usually dependable maverick.

At least this one starts off promising, with a guy getting stabbed in front of a kid and then worrying if the kid (who is like two and can barely talk) will be able to identify him. So he does the most obvious thing: he finds a different (older) kid in the street and asks him if he'd remember him if he saw him again later, to which the kid asks if he's a ______ (word that doesn't fly anymore, starts with R, slang for dumb person). The killer also spray paints a shadow of himself while talking to himself as a song about shadows plays on the soundtrack, and all of this is in the first five minutes! So, yeah! This rules!

Unfortunately the silliness tapers off as the film goes on. It's only 90 minutes (so, shorter than Special Effects at least) and there are some solid bits throughout, but the opening promises a little more excitement than the film ultimately offers. Our guy is tasked by his mob bosses to kill the kid to make sure there are no loose ends, and to do this he begins romancing the boy's mother (who missed the crime entirely; her not paying much attention to her toddler is kind of a running theme throughout the movie) to increase his chances of offing the kid and chalking it up to an accident. So it SEEMS like a movie where this guy might legit start falling for her and switch sides, maybe protect the kid (and the mom) from his mob partners, but nah. It's mostly just a series of scenes of him having the perfect chance to off the kid and then deciding not to, so it gets pretty repetitive. The mob guys never even really take a more active role in the proceedings, nor does he encounter the cop (Cronenberg regular Stephen Lack, the only person in the movie I recognized) which might give it a little tension. It's all just very loosey goosey, and I couldn't help but think if the guy was played by Michael Moriarty it might have been at least more fun.

Still, Cohen tosses in a few good bits, like a scene where the killer plans to kill the kid by pushing him so hard on the swing that he falls off and impales himself on a nearby fence (!), and an insane climactic chase where the kid is on a portable merry go round (is this a real thing?) that's hitched to a truck, which has been hijacked by the killer. So we see the kid spinning around and around as the truck drives around New York, no obvious dummy being used (it's CLEARLY him in a few shots, in fact); it's not only fairly well crafted, it's kind of terrifying in a "there's a million ways this could go wrong" way.

But apart from those scenes, there's just too much filler here, with unresolved plot points (the kid's real father is last seen being held at gunpoint by the mom's over protective friend - it's unclear if she ever let him go!) and nowhere near enough suspense to maintain the "thriller" we've been promised. Cohen bounced back the next year with The Stuff, so it's obvious he still had his chops - I'll forever wonder if he had combined his resources and budget to make just one of these two (Effects had better potential, in my opinion) it could have ended up being one of my faves. Instead we got two of his lesser works, though I guess it helps me appreciate The Stuff all the more, so that's fine.

What say you?

Couldn't find a trailer so here's someone else reviewing the Vinegar Syndrome disc!

PLEASE, GO ON...

FTP: The Unholy (1988)

NOVEMBER 29, 2022

GENRE: RELIGIOUS, SUPERNATURAL
SOURCE: BLU-RAY (OWN COLLECTION)

For whatever reason, I saw but never got around to reviewing Prey for the Devil, which was yet another exorcism movie that I found more enjoyable than most (see also: The Rite, The Devil Inside, etc). As I’ve explained elsewhere, I feel the mix of being raised Catholic and also not seeing The Exorcist until much later in my horror life (I was in college, in fact – a full 12 years after I saw Texas Chain Saw Massacre and the like) allows me to be a little more endeared to these things than the average fan, who see them all as “bad Exorcist ripoffs!” and little more. At any rate, if I DID review it I’d probably have noted that it was fitting for Ben Cross to be playing a priest in his final movie (he died in 2020, but the movie had been delayed) since he had played so many others, so I had to laugh when I loaded up The Unholy and saw that it starred Cross as... you guessed it, a priest.

The movie has come up a few times at horror trivia and I’m always thinking “Oh yeah, I need to finally watch that” but I also had the wrong idea of what the movie was. I had it in my head that it was about a vampire terrorizing a church (my mental image was something like Demon Knight with a eurotrash-type vamp in the Billy Zane role? I have no idea where that movie concept came from) so I was kind of amused to see that it was sort of an Exorcist riff, or at least closer to one than any vampire movie. Cross is the new priest at a New Orleans church who is replacing the previous one, who was murdered (and we later learn he wasn’t the first murdered priest), and he is curious about the sexy nightclub next door that’s into some BDSM stuff. And he meets a “nice girl” type who may be trying to sway him into breaking his vow of celibacy – could she be the murderer?

That question is answered... somewhat hazily! It’s not a bad movie, but I’m glad I saw it on Vestron’s special edition, because the bonus features cleared up some of my issues with the film, and confirmed what I suspected: that it was reworked at some point. In fact in a way it was reworked twice; turns out the script was written in the ‘70s and would have indeed been something more dramatic in the Exorcist vein, but was rewritten in the ‘80s to give it modern sensibilities. And maybe that’d work, but it was also partially reshot/re-edited by the producers who wanted more horror, something like Nightmare on Elm Street and things of that nature, as opposed to the more serious thriller director Camilo Vila intended. So you have a movie that has not one but two tug-of wars with the basic idea of what kind of movie it’s going to be, so it’s not really surprising that it doesn’t really work as a whole.

But it’s not too bad. When I see Cross in stuff he’s usually playing supporting roles, so it was fun to see him as a lead and backed up by vets like Hal Holbrook and Ned Beatty, not to mention the lovely ladies throwing themselves at him and trying to get him to break his vows (this movie would be much shorter if I was the main character, I tell you what). They don’t use the New Orleans setting all that much, but there’s enough to give it a little more flavor than the average independent horror movie of the time, nearly all of which were shot in Los Angeles (not counting REAL independent stuff, i.e “regional” horror). And while they throw the movie’s whole vibe off and look kind of silly, I can’t deny that I was entertained by the two little rubber demons running around at the (reshot) end of the film, as if John Buechler had broken into the editing room and took over for the final reel.

Vestron’s release is jampacked with bonuses, including the original (and yes, superior) ending as well as a commentary with Vila, who obviously wasn’t thrilled about the final product. In fact he even notes that if he was asked to do the commentary a couple years earlier he would have said no, but luckily for us had softened enough on it over time to at least be happy with the parts that weren’t reshaped without him and accept that even as is, it’s not all that bad. And I discovered that this was, in fact, Vestron’s highest grossing horror movie of all time (2nd in their whole history after Dirty Dancing), which delighted me but also made me lament that once upon a time a movie like this could land on over a thousand screens and outgross a few major releases for the year (including Hellraiser II, which shares the work of Bob Keen). There’s a strong chance that Spielberg’s newest film doesn’t even get to play on as many screens as this weird little demon flick did back then! It’s charming and sad in equal measures, how much things have changed and not really for the better in my opinion. But hey, at least Vestron has saved it, and for Cross fans who (like me) were sad to see him looking so sickly in Prey for the Devil, it offers a chance to see him looking healthy and telling stories in his 20 minute interview. RIP sir, you always made little character parts that much more interesting, and I'm sorry it took me years to get around to watching you chain-smoke and try not to bang the hot redhead demon lady that kept trying to do just that.

What say you?

PLEASE, GO ON...

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